Research

View All Publications

CONSERVATION PALEOBIOLOGY: LINKING THE PAST TO THE PRESENT, FOR THE FUTURE

Understanding responses to past environmental perturbations will better prepare us to assess how biodiversity will be affected by ongoing and future environmental change. In a Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology Paper, (Kemp and Hadly 2016), I outlined detectable responses and assessment strategies through which conservation paleobiology can contribute to real-world assessment and conservation strategies.

From Kemp and Hadly 2016

However, the assessment and conservation of biodiversity requires perspective not only from the past, but also the present. Our groups research capitalizes on advances in these and other tools as they pertain not only to the fossil record, but also to modern communities, thereby bridging these two time points. Our research interests include:

COMMUNITY ECOLOGY THROUGH DEEP TIME

We are interested in whether present-day biological communities are representative of long-term biological interactions, and the extent to which communities are reshaped by environmental changes, such as extinction and habitat modification. These data provide a much-needed paleobiological perspective to a long-standing question in ecology and evolutionary biology: how stable are biological communities (and the diversity within them) through time?

BIOLOGICAL RESPONSES TO GLOBAL CHANGE

We seek to understand how organisms are shaped by global change phenomena through time, at the responses that different taxa have to biotic and abiotic perturbations through time, and we use tools such as morphometrics, genetics, and stable isotopes to track diversity within populations before, during, and after encounters with environmental perturbations related to global change, such as sea-level fluctuations, climate change, species introductions, and habitat loss. These studies will help articulate if species persistence in a changing world is directly linked to specific traits and/or the ability to adapt rapidly.

INSULAR VERSUS CONTINENTAL EXTINCTION AND DIVERSIFICATION DYNAMICS

Islands harbor unique biotas and serve as natural laboratories. A number of biogeographical rules have been articulated to describe diversification and extinction processes on islands relative to continental systems. However, ancient biodiversity is often neglected when comparing continental and insular systems, which may obscure the metrics of interest, including estimates of diversification rates, character evolution, and extinction rates. We quantify ancient biodiversity through paleontological excavations and reconstruct extinction chronologies to understand the full extent of island biodiversity. We are also actively augmenting the fossil record of continental localities, primarily through revisiting museum collections.

VERTEBRATE PALEOBIOLOGY OF THE TROPICS

Integration of paleontological data with ecological data is especially needed in the tropics, a region with many biodiversity hotspots, high human populations, and high rates of habitat loss. Historically, there has been a paucity of paleontological fieldwork in the tropics, due in part to conditions that are less conducive to fossilization, but my colleagues and I have unearthed highly diverse faunal assemblages in the Caribbean and elsewhere. We work in the Caribbean and other tropical localities, focusing primarily on Quaternary deposits (2.6 million years ago - present). The Quaternary represents our most recent past and is an excellent corollary to the present, as climate fluctuations and human migration were the major drivers of biotic change.

Where we Work

  • The Caribbean
  • Texas

We focus primarily on the Quaternary (2.6 million years ago - present). The Quaternary represents our most recent past and is an excellent corollary to the present, as climate fluctuations and human migration were the major drivers of biotic change.

The majority of our research is centered around reptiles (specifically lizards) and amphibians, but we are question-driven and broadly interested in vertebrate biodiversity; thus, we occasionally work with other taxonomic groups.